Thursday, August 6, 2009

mbagala bomb blast

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On 29
April 2009, the city of Dar-es-salaam was rocked by a series of earsplitting
explosions. Bombs of undisclosed strength and magnitude, bullets, grenades, rockets and
other dangerous pieces of ammunition stockpiled at the Military barracks of the Tanzania
People’s Defense Force (TPDF) armory at Mbagala depot off the armory walls and roof
as they exploded, causing mass destruction to property as well as injury and death to
civilians who were living around the vicinity of the army
. Residential houses around the
area at Mbagala Kuu crumbled to the ground, covering beneath them men, women and
children caught unawares, schools collapsed, etc. Debris was projected into the
residential area, landing on and into houses, killing 29 people on the spot and wounding
at least 300 others. The damage to infrastructure and the surrounding houses was
extensive. Hundreds of families were left homeless. Chaos reigned due to the brazen
disregard of international Humanitarian Law in Tanzania. In the face of that , we would
like to commend the work done by Red Cross Society as without their relief lives of
hundreds could be at mess.
Analysis of the findings
The first evidence of this disregard appears in the form of the land dispensation that has
been carried out in this area, which is believed to have been done incorrectly and which
also does not uphold the humanitarian law principles. According to the Land Act of
, there are three main ways of acquiring land. The Land Act
reserved for special activities amongst which, the military is not listed. However, the
residents of Mbagala claim to have had their land dispensed to them legally and claim to
have the proof of certificates of occupancy.
Daily News, Friday July; 2009 (online version)
Of 1999 CAP 113 [R.E. 2002]
Ibid., 6.
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Upon the acquisition of land by the civilians, the Government being the responsible organ
for allocating this land has a duty to ensure that the principles of international
humanitarian law have been observed. As per the basic principle of distinction, no
civilian has justification for owning land in such close proximity to the military depot.
As according to The Protocol 1 Additional to the Geneva Conventions, Tanzania as a
state party should, to the maximum extent feasible, avoid locating military objectives
within or near densely populated areas
. This is to pay attention to the principle of
Distinction. This is a principle of international humanitarian law which demands that a
distinction should always be made between the military objects and the non-military
(civilian) objects as well as between combatants and non-combatants (civilians) so as to
inter alia protect the civilians from the hostilities directed towards combatants and the
misfortunes that may befall them by virtue of so being. President of University of Dar es
salaam Human Rights Association insisted, even if the country is not at war, Government
must adhere to the Geneva conventions principles.
However, it should be noted that if these people own this land, then they have had it
allocated to them. This is a direct contravention of the municipal legislations, as well as
international humanitarian laws
It should also be noted that, despite the obligations that
Tanzania has, to international law, there are no provisions whatsoever in the land act that
pay obeisance or even recognize this obligation. It was stated by Dr. K. Kamanga that,
“Tanzania declared its commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions through formal
declaration on the 12
December of 1962. She acceded and thus voluntarily expressed
her consent to be legally bound by the Additional Protocols on the 15
February 1983”
It has however showed no evidence of doing so, as it has not in its municipal legislations
on land matters, directly addressed this issue in its provisions.
The Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12
August 1949, and Relating to the Protection
of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), of 8
June 1977, Article 58 (b) & (c)
The Guardian, April 3o 2009.UDSM activists asks Government to locate barracks away from civilians
Protocol 1.Loc.cit
Khoti Kamanga; Study into implementationof International Humanitarian Law in Tanzania. 1998 Faculty
of Law: University of Dar-es-salaam: Tanzania.
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Furthermore, the planning in the area of Mbagala Kuu has proved to be very poor. It is
indeed doubtful as to whether this land has been properly surveyed and subjected to the
attentions of urban planning. This is apparent in the haphazard manner in which the roads
and houses are laid. In addition, the roads are poorly maintained and in some parts seem
to have been hewn roughly from dirt paths. Suffice it to say, in an emergency such as
this, it is almost impossible for aid and assistance to arrive at the disposal of the needy.
Seeing as, The protocol also provides that the state party shall take any other necessary
precautions to protect the civilian population, individual civilians and civilian objects
under their control against the dangers resulting from military operations(emphasis is
. This should also include keeping the roads in good condition and the l planned.
This evidences that the Municipal Authority in Tanzania on Land Matters, which is the
Land Act has no element of International Humanitarian Law especially in gazetting of
military areas. This makes the provisions of the Geneva Conventions impotent as they
have never been domesticated. This is a pity as, the Constitution of the United Republic
of Tanzania puts an obligation on the parliament to ensure that treaties and conventions
are ratified or domesticated thus enacting enabling legislation
. This makes it enforceable
before our courts of law. All this leads to the inference that, the government is either very
poorly informed on International Humanitarian Law, or it has no knowledge whatsoever.
This is also a breach of the Geneva Conventions
which emphasizes on the
dissemination of knowledge on International Humanitarian Law. The implementation and
enforcement of humanitarian law can be both in peace time and time of conflict.
During peace times as well as times of war, the parties to the Conventions and protocols
are obliged to include the study of international humanitarian law in their programmes of
military instructions as well as the military commanders ensuring that members of the
armed forces under their command are aware of their obligations under the conventions
and protocols. They are also to encourage the civilian population to study them.
Furthermore, the first Protocol obligates the availability of legal advisers to the military
Op cit , 1949 AP I, Article 58(b)
Constitution of The United Republic of Tanzania of 1977, article 63(3)(d & e)
All Geneva Conventions, Common article 1.
Geneva Convention Relating to the Protection of Civilians 1949, Article 144.
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commanders, who will be instructed by them as on the texts and materials of the
International Humanitarian Law and who will in turn instruct their subordinates in the
armed forces
. Not only are they to abide by this, but they should ensure that, as they
disseminate this information, they do it in such a manner that will enable the civilians to
understand. They should mind the language barrier and thus employ translation where
needed. They should also not rely on the literate few, as some cannot read, thus need oral
informative techniques.
The Red Cross Societies play a major role in this area. They are custodians of
international humanitarian law and thus, despite their role in giving humanitarian relief,
have a big role to play in making sure that Parties to the Conventions and their key
players are well informed on the principles under which international humanitarian law
operates. This was apparent in our study tour to Mbagala, where the civilians professed to
have no knowledge at all of international humanitarian law. Sadly, the Red Cross
Officials confessed to having barely disseminated the knowledge to the civilians. Not
only civilians but even Red Cross society lacks experts of Humanitarian law.
It was also glaringly obvious that the military officials, who purported to dispense land to
the civilians right next to the military facility, have never taken precaution measures to
inform or educate these civilians on International Humanitarian Law and the mess of
living close to military depot. Hence, we ratify what we cannot implement.
The Red Cross is further charged with obligations under the conventions and the
protocols to carry out humanitarian functions so as to help the victims both in times of
peace as well as in time of war, subject to the consent of the state party
. In the context
of the incident at Mbagala, the Tanzania Red Cross Society, in keeping with their aims
and objectives, availed 15 of their volunteers to provide assistance to the victims by
helping in the gathering of the missing, wounded and dead, donating tents, food and
water to the best of their immediate capacity.These efforts were hindered by the
GC IV, 144, AP I, 82, 83, 87
AP I, article 81, GC IV, 10, 63, AP II 18.
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haphazard layout of the area, the poor infrastructure and the minimal funds available to
them. Also, the somewhat slow response of the Government to help in the situation, and
when they finally did, they did so to the minimum. Some private institutions however,
lent a hand to the efforts of the Tanzania Red Cross Society by donating tents, food and
water, medical facilities as well as medicines.
In conclusion, the problem of lack of dissemination has lead to the lack of knowledge on
the principle of distinction, which has the main purpose of keeping the civilians safe and
away from danger zones. This principle was not adhered to and thus the area around
Mbagala Kuu ending up with a population of 18,866 people affected greatly, breaking
down into 3,775 families
At this juncture, having witnessed and later analyzed what has happened at Mbagala due
to series of explosions, we recommend the following;
1. That the Country be obliged to domesticate the International treaties and
conventions to which we ratify so as to make them enforceable in the courts of
2. In the interests of fulfilling the requirements of the Geneva Conventions, the
country should facilitate for the Tanzania Red Cross Society in their task of
dissemination of international Humanitarian Law to the Armed Forces and the
Civilians at large.
3. In the furtherance of the above requirement, the country should undertake serious
training of the officials of the Tanzania Red Cross Society, who will in turn
disseminate the knowledge to the Armed Forces and Civilians at large.
4. As with Regards to the allocation of land, the legislature should come up with a
comprehensive policy on dispensation and gazeting of Military objectives and
civilian objectives as per the principle of distinction.
5. In keeping with the Disaster Relief Coordination Act No. 9 and the Geneva
Conventions, the government should preserve the dignity and humanity of its
people under the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement by compensating
Data generated during the assessment by TRCS
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them on the injuries suffered and allowing them to rebuild their houses as well as
their lives.

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